Posts Tagged ‘Efficiency First’

Energy Independence

July 3, 2009

You’ll hear “energy independence” batted around.  Some folks will undoubtedly be tying it to Independence Day, the 4th of July, in the U.S.  And it is a great aspirational goal. 

Let’s blow away the smoke, though.  Energy independence for the U.S. will not happen overnight.  It won’t happen in a decade.  It may never happen completely as it may always make more sense for the Northeastern U.S. to get some of electricity from hydroelectric plants in Canada.  And we may find it makes sense to continue to import some “energy” from Mexico and Canada for raw energy or for products where petroleum or natural gas is the best feedstock.

Let’s also be clear that real energy independence is not about drilling for more oil in this country.  We simply don’t have enough to quench our current thirst.  It’s not about switching more to coal—we already generate more than half our electricity from coal, and we simply cannot afford the damage to our air, mountains, streams, and lakes.  But nor is it just about building massive wind farms in Texas or massive solar farms in Nevada.  We cannot generate enough that way to meet our current demands in the next decade, and even if we could, we would have to think about how to move electricity from Texas to Chicago and beyond.

But I’m very optimistic about a cleaner energy future.  Not only is it urgently needed, but it also makes a lot of sense for economic, security, and environment reasons.

The place to start of course, is energy-efficiency.  The McKinsey cost curve (here, as depicted in National Geographic) illustrates this perfectly.  It’s almost one of those “duh” observations—but an observation that we unfortunately haven’t embraced yet.   The “increased cost” argument is a red herring on the efficiency side.  Wasting less energy—wasting less, period—saving us money!   As DOE Secretary Chu put it, “Energy efficiency is not just low-hanging fruit; it is fruit lying on the ground.”    If we make the efforts to do more, do it better, and do it with less, we win.  And if we decrease our need for energy, the supply side of the equation becomes more simpler.  We don’t need as much, electricity, gas, oil, ethanol, etc.   The scale of our wind farms and PV arrays can be smaller.  We don’t have to worry as much about massive energy distribution infrastructure.   Energy-efficiency is the critical first step, and it makes the next steps more achievable.  Once we start making significant inroads there, we can tackle more manage supply issues, especially including renewables.

The good news is that this creates economic opportunity.  “Green” jobs are certainly a big part of this.  These jobs are for the most part very local.  They cannot be exported our outsourced.  The ensure that money that was formerly sent overseas stays in our communities.  And obviously good jobs give the economy a boost.  It doesn’t stop there, though.  As businesses save energy, they save money.  Money that formerly went up a chimney, flue, or smokestack can be reinvested in the core business, creating new and better widgets, improved services, and stronger competitiveness.  In short, the less businesses waste, the easier it is for us to maintain a leadership role. 

This same principal holds at the household level.  These less money we spend on energy, the more we have to send our kids to school, pay our mortgages, and protect ourselves from the ups and downs of a global market and global energy costs.

There are upfront costs for energy-efficiency.  But they are actually less than the costs to build and maintain new power plants, new power lines and gas pipelines, and the fossil-fuels needed to run them. 

Total energy independence may be a far-off dream.   There is absolutely no good reason, though, we shouldn’t begin running in that direction, and saving money and increasing our resilience, right now.  With energy-efficiency first.


Efficiency First!

June 29, 2009

It’s good to see some journalists getting this right.   In a June 8 article, Thomas Content of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinal pointed out the need to look at energy-efficiency first, before renewables like  wind.  Drawing on the McKinsey cost curve (here, as depicted in National Geographic) and other studies, showing as he quotes DOE Secretary Chu, “Energy efficiency is not just low-hanging fruit; it is fruit lying on the ground.”

Sari Krieger of the Wall Street Journal also covers this in her June 15 article “Before Adding, Try Reducing”.   She quotes Peter Welch of Vemont, “We should have the policy of efficiency first.”


Ten Tips for Keeping Cool

June 29, 2009

Now that summer is officially here, let’s get to those cooling tips I promised earlier.  Some of the tips are simple things you can do yourself.  Some are more involved are likely are best handled by a contractor.

  1. Keep the heat out!  During the day, if it’s cooler inside than outside, keep windows shut.  And keep window shades down to block out direct sunlight.  Open the windows at night if it’s cooler outside than in.  Solar shades can help.  And the more ambitious project, new low-e windows with a low “solar heat gain coefficient” (SHGC) can block the heat from the sun.
  2. Ceiling fans (and other fans) help you stay comfortable—but only while you’re in the room.  The fan motors actually generate heat, so turn them off when you’re not there.
  3. Use a bath fan vented to the outside to remove the heat and moisture created by showering.  If you don’t have a bath fan, install one.
  4. Similarly, use a kitchen exhaust fan to remove heat and moisture created by cooking.  This has the added benefit of removing pollutants, especially if you cook with gas.
  5. Use efficient lighting and appliances.  Incandescent and halogen lights actually use most of their energy creating heat instead of light.  Not only does this means you’re overpaying for lighting, but in the summer you’re creating a lot of unwanted heat in the rooms you’re trying to keep cool.  Compact florescent light bulbs have improved greatly over the past several years.  The humming, slow starts, and ghoulish colors of years past are gone.  With lighting or appliances, look for ENERGY STAR models.
  6. Do you have a forced air heating or cooling system? If so, make sure to seal and insulate the ductwork in attics and crawl spaces.  As much as 30% of the air you cool can escape outside through leaky ducts.
  7. Insulate and air-seal your attic.  In the summer, temperatures in the attic often climb to more than 140o.    Proper insulation can keep this heat from conducting down into your home, but first…  Remember that your insulation only works if air isn’t moving through it.  Seal around chimneys, flues, plumbing penetrations, and recessed lighting, for example.   See my previous post Insulate to Stay Cool (Tax credits may apply)
  8. If you have a central air-conditioner, keep it tuned up.   If it’s more than 10 years old, consider replacing with a high-efficiency unit, one that at least qualifies for ENERGY STAR.  If your buying a window air-conditioner or dehumidifier, look for the ENERGY STAR, too.  (Tax credits may apply)
  9. Planting deciduous trees on the south and west sides of a house can help keep your home cool in the summer.  In many parts of the country, maples, oaks, and birches are good trees to consider.  Because they drop their leaves in the fall, they let sunlight through to help warm your house in the winter.
  10. To really find the trouble spots in your home, and to be sure that they’re addressed properly, get a comprehensive home assessment like those recommended in the Home Performance with ENERGY STAR program.  GreenHomes America can provide this, and GreenHomes trained and certified crews can even install your improvements.

And whether you do the work yourself or you have it done by a contractor, after you tighten the house you should have any combustion equipment like furnaces and water heaters tested to make sure they’re running safely and efficiently.  GreenHomes does this testing on every project it completes.


Energy Policy–Efficiency First

May 13, 2009

I had a My Turn piece in today’s Burlington Free Press on energy policy proposals in Washington and in Vermont.     And kudos to Congressman Welch for getting it right!


“Clean” coal not a panacea

March 22, 2009

In a column on Friday, Jeff Ball of the Wall Street Journal talks about the Coal Hard Facts: Cleaning It Won’t Be Dirt Cheap.   It seems right on.  Of course, this doesn’t even address the impact of mining itself that I raised in an earlier post.

Minor and even major tweaks on the energy supply side won’t save us.   The economy and the environment require that energy-efficiency be a cornerstone of our solution.   Fortunately, efficiency allows us to save money AND get the other benefits we need.   What’s not to like about that!


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